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People management skills: four you can develop for free

Published 12th January 2017 by Melissa Farrington

We’ve chosen five transformational people management skills that will make a massive difference to your management abilities.

Active listening

What is active listening?

Active listening is listening to understand.

It involves paying attention to the entirety of the experience and environment, including the speaker’s words and body language, and then repeating back to the speaker your interpretation of what they mean. If the speaker agrees that you understand, you move on.

If they don’t, they offer more information, perhaps in different words, until they think you do understand.

Why is active listening an important people management skill?

Strong communication is essential to people management, as are trust and empathy.

When we think badly of someone, or they think badly of us, the issue can often be traced to poor communication.

This ‘understanding gap’ causes a lot of conflict: if we think someone has understood our problem, and then they don’t fix it, we find it hard to trust them in future.

Active listening skills: how you can develop them

  • Be curious in conversations: what people say is not always what they mean. Is the person nervous or trying to cover a confidence problem? Do they have personal stresses they aren’t admitting to? Look for what is not being said.

  • Prioritise understanding: don’t think about what you want to say next. Concentrate fully on trying to understand what the person is trying to get across to you.

  • Memory skills: retaining is very important in active listening because you repeat back with the aim of showing your understanding. Try The Complete Guide to Memory Mastery by Harry Lorayne.

Emotional intelligence

What is emotional intelligence?

Also known as emotional quotient (EQ), emotional intelligence is our ability to acknowledge, recognise and label our emotions, and our ability to achieve our goals with, or despite, our emotions.

It is also the ability to recognise emotions in others and to use this information to achieve outcomes.

Why is emotional intelligence an important people management skill?

Decision-making is emotion-driven, so how we identify with, respond to and understand emotions is fundamental to the quality of our decision-making.

When our decisions affect others, as they always do in people management, emotions become even more important.

Emotional intelligence skills: how you can develop them

  • Develop a rich emotional vocabulary: you can easily label anger and fear, but what about indignation? Agitation? Intolerance? Nuance is important: it allows us to understand an emotion’s cause and therefore how we can manage it.

  • Practice mindfulness: mindfulness is the art of being present and aware of what’s going on around us. This includes what’s happening in our mind. By curiously examining our emotions, we rob them of their power.

  • Analyse your decisions: when a course of action seems obvious, ask yourself why. Are you hungry or irritated? What’s pushing you towards that decision? Choices are rarely easy: when they are, a strong emotion is often to blame.

Energy management

What is energy management?

Good energy management at work is about our ability to control our energy levels based on need.

This includes reducing the things that deplete our energy and doing more things that maintain or increase our energy.

Often this involves changing how we approach our working day and lifestyle, but easy changes yield positive results.

Why is energy management an important people management skill?

When energy levels are depleted, we feel irritable, short-tempered and impatient.

We tend to choose the easiest course of action, rather than doing what’s right.

We’re more susceptible to biases - such as blaming someone’s personality rather than situational factors - and we can’t concentrate or follow logic. We feel time ticking away rapidly.

All these combine to create an environment where we can’t judge people’s actions effectively, empathise with their point of view or make mutually-beneficial decisions - all things necessary to be effective people managers.

Energy management skills: how you can develop them

  • Get a handle on sleep: poor sleep affects everything, from judgement to decision-making. Improve the quality of your sleep by eating earlier, avoiding screen time before bed, using table lamps in the evening rather than room lights and reading before going to sleep.

  • Don’t multitask: multitasking drains energy levels. And it’s impossible: you aren’t doing two things at once, just switching between them very quickly. Focus on one thing at once and don’t work for more than 90 minutes without a break.

  • Sustain yourself healthily: we’re more irritable when hungry, thirsty or feeling antsy. Eating foods that release energy slowly, drinking enough water and exercising regularly are easy ways to stabilise energy levels.

Growth mindset

What is a growth mindset?

People with a fixed mindset believe their talent, skills, knowledge and experience are set from birth and can’t be improved.

If you have a growth mindset, you believe these things are fluid and can be improved over time.

Imagine failing a test.

With a fixed mindset, you’d take it personally: you’re simply not talented or clever enough to pass. Someone with a growth mindset would bounce back, believing that with more study and more reflection they would be able to pass the test.

Why is having a growth mindset an important people management skill?

People management is about getting the most out of people.

If you believe your direct reports have fixed talent, brain power and skills, you’re more likely to tell them off for getting something wrong, fail to stretch them and delegate poorly.

You’re also less likely to coach them, will probably think that self-directed learning is a waste of time and generally maintain the worldview you have of them forever. This is not an environment in which people thrive.

How to develop a growth mindset

  • Take the mindset assessment: Carol Dweck pioneered the growth mindset theory and she offers an assessment tool to help pinpoint your fixed mindset tendencies.

  • Stop thinking about ‘talent’ and ‘star performers:’ start thinking about strengths and weaknesses, and how you can boost everyone’s performance by coaching and stretching through delegating and learning.

  • Reward and recognise effort and innovation: look for people who stretch themselves, who battle against a high risk of failure and who try new things because they’re the right thing to do. Once identified, publicly reward them for doing so.